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Homemade Liquid Nitrogen with the Joule-Thompson Effect (hackaday.com)
60 points by areoform 60 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

Link to the actual project: http://www.homemadeliquidnitrogen.com/index.html

I kept getting errors trying to show the video. Its a pretty cool project (no pun intended). Back when I worked at Intel there was a LN2 "generator" outside the building, you could walk out, hold up your Dewar and fill it up. The whole thing was probably 8' on a side and 10 - 15' tall. Later when the building was torn down to make it a data center I saw the remains of the generator where it had been dismantled for scrap and that made me a bit nostalgic, and I thought "I wonder how hard it would be to do this at home?"

And now this guy goes and does just that! Given his progression I'm wondering if his next step will be to build a liquid oxygen generator using the liquid nitrogen to liquefy it.

Silly question - what can you really do with liquid nitrogen at home? I can think of cooking applications but I’m pressed to think of something else.

Years ago when some friends and I first heard of "pycrete" and the plan to build an aircraft carrier out of ice, we wondered if it would be feasible to build a boat out of ice ourselves, and go punting down the Cam on it among baffled crowds.

We concluded we'd need several cubic meters of ice, and the thing would be impossible to transport outside the river, so it would have to be built in-situ, and the obvious choice for that much cooling was liquid nitrogen. Unfortunately we ran the specific heat numbers and concluded it would cost several thousand pounds to buy that much LN2 off the shelf, so there the project ended.

Given a homebrew LN2 supply, lots of fun (and dangerous) possibilities will present themselves.

(I've also been to a make-your-own-icecream festival in a wood which was done with LN2; blend ingredients, add LN2, stir frantically)

Make ice cream? I haven't done it since college, but you basically put milk and sugar and vanilla in a big shallow pan, and then pour in liquid nitrogen and mix.

Use the liquid nitrogen to cool a coil of copper tubing through which oxygen is flowing, to make liquid oxygen?

1. I’ve seen people overclock using liquid nitrogen

2. Freeze off warts

3. Nitrogen shrink fitting

E.g. fitting bushings into excavator pivots or caterpillar track bearings. Great footage shown on site on an Australian series: Mega Machines?

> 1. I’ve seen people overclock using liquid nitrogen

Heck, when I was at Intel we used to do that in the lab. A copper cup full of liquid N is a great heat sink!

> used to do that in the lab

And tradeshows; it’s always kind of fun to see in an absurd way.

How often did you have to top it off?

It only got used for short experiments. More of just one-shot use.

We use it to keep semen and embryos cold.

Interesting home application.

Well, my father-in-law had a dairy farm and bred pedigreed Holsteins. He always had a lot of frozen semen in stock.

So.... a business application, but also home :)

Keep a cooler cold longer when going camping?

Dunno how well liquid N2 compares to Dry ice. Less toxic, but probably can’t take as much advantage of phase changes? Either way, -125C ice packs will perform better than -18C ice pack.

Maybe, let's see… Your N2 is going to evaporate to a gas, cooling your stuff. The heat moved is going to be the "latent heat of evaporation" which is 199kJ/kg. The gas will be at -195°C with a specific heat around 1kJ/kg, so about 195kJ/kg for to get to 0°C.

Your CO2 is going to sublimate straight from a solid to a gas. The heat moved is going to be "latent heat of sublimation" which is 199kJ/kg. This is only going to be around -78°C and also has a specific heat around 1kJ/kg, so about another 78kJ/kg.

Ok, that seems suspicious, the phase change energies are the same, but it appears to be a total coincidence.

So… if we can hold on to the gas and warm it up before releasing it, then liquid nitrogen wins with about 400kJ/kg compared to 280kJ/kg.

…but depending on our insulation and volume, we may find that we are making a lot more gas than will fit in the cooler so we can't make use of the gas, in which case both choices are about 200kJ/kg.

If you could just keep CO2 from sublimating it would be a huge winner at combined melting and evaporating energy of about 840kJ/kg… but that's why it would rather sublimate.

In the boring category though, water really rocks at 334kJ/kg to melt, so if you supercool your water ice to liquid nitrogen temperatures before leaving you will win.

For safety: Liquid nitrogen needs some special care. If you put your cooler in a small tent, and evaporate off a couple kilograms of liquid nitrogen over night you may not wake up in the warning. The higher nitrogen content of your stuffy little tent will displace oxygen and your body doesn't have a "low oxygen" detector built in. You just die. In contrast, your body does have a "high CO2" detector built in and you would likely have trouble breathing and open the tent flap.

Your analysis doesn't consider that the energy leaking through the walls of the coolbox depends on how cold it is.

That has a pretty significant effect in favour of plain old water.

Are you saying that if I chill my water ice with liquid nitrogren or CO2, that ice will take longer to melt than either of those by themselves?

Yes, but you'll use more than 2kg of LN2 or dry ice for each kg of water ice you chill down to those cryogenic temperatures.

Maybe. The -125C ice could melt faster if it and its container shatters into a billion pieces (a real risk if it’s dropped), massively increasing its surface area.


Was hoping sublimation worked like melting+evaporation, but nowhere close :(

On toxicity, my thinking was you would need a lot more N2 to displace enough atmospheric O2 to cause a problem.

Whereas the sublimating CO2 does displace O2, the CO2 itself is toxic and would probably kill you first. But maybe not in the tent scenario.

Dunno if the DIY N2 has a lot of liquid O2 in it anyway?

CO2 is safer since our bodies have receptors that notice CO2 buildup in the bloodstream, but no receptors that notice lack of oxygen. Breathing pure nitrogen is a very gentle way of killing yourself. You just fall unconscious and die.

Make dippin' dots.

Fill balloons instead of using helium? Otherwise, any cooking solution that’s reasonably safe would be a good use.

It's hard to fill balloons with liquid nitrogen since it freezes them solid.

Good point, why don't we see nitrogen (gas) filled balloons?

They are barely bouyant - helium works much better

I wonder if a mixture would help reduce how much He is needed. Like they’ll be less dramatic but still float.

Untraceable assassinations

The bloke at the Youtube channel Veritasium has a good video [0] where he makes LN2 using a Helium stirling engine chiller [1].

[0] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCXkaQa53QQ [1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryocooler#Stirling_refrigerat...

unless your goal is just to see if you can produce LN2:

> In most US cities, you can get LN2 for between $0.30 and $1 /liter. Just go to an Airgas or whatever with a dewar and they will fill it right up for you.

In Europe, both dry ice and LN2 are harder to get. They aren't sold at Walmart, and only seem to be available if you know someone at a university or industry using them.

Nah, you can buy dry ice commercially for about $1/kg in many places, it's used for shows, parties and food refrigeration. ln2 is only a little harder to obtain, but there are companies which will lease dewars and fill them with LN2. It's not like walmart level, but you can get them in bigger cities.

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